Don't focus so much on the total seat count.
Seats, seats and more seats!
Seating capacity is one of the first things people look at when reviewing architectural drawings for a restaurant. The reason for this is simple: they want to know how many people the restaurant can accommodate during peak periods. Unfortunately, focusing solely on seating capacity can be a little short sighted. Recently, there were a couple of article written in FE&S on tabletop design; one by Joe Carbonara imploring operators to make the proper investment in tabletop design and another one by Amelia Levin outlining five mistakes to avoid when assembling a tabletop.
I would like to expand on the points made in Amelia's article by adding Mistake #6: Focusing too much on the number of seats in the front of the house.
Often during the design process's "form and function" tussle, the focus of the dining room tilts significantly toward form, focusing on ways to make the space stand out, enhancing its sex appeal for the guests that use it. While this is important, it's equally crucial to balance the functional aspect of the equation, to ensure an optimal guest experience.
If the front of the house capacity and efficiency is out of synch, the foodservice operation's staff will struggle to provide service, particularly during peak periods, resulting in lower sales for the restaurant, and longer wait times for the guests.
I am sure that you have experienced long wait times in a restaurant. Next time this happens, I invite you to walk the dining room and see how efficiently the dining room is functioning. You will likely notice a high number of larger tables that have only two people sitting at them.
So the next time you design a front of house, be a bit more analytical in your methodology and apply the principles of industrial engineering. This includes considering the party sizes that come into the restaurant, the total eating time, the kitchen capacity and the randomness of the arrivals and the production times, among other factors. Following this analytical process to come up with the right mix of table number and sizes will maximize the total number of tables instead of the total number of seats, resulting in the potential to drive more sales.
When a restaurant has to reduce the number of seats it has for one reason or another, a commotion often ensues. Look at it analytically: If the number of tables increases but the seating capacity decreases don't be so concerned. That's because in most instances, the total number of tables serves as a key metric to driving more sales. Why? More tables means the restaurant can accommodate more parties during peak business periods. It can seem counterintuitive but try this approach.
What is better, having a single 300-seat table that sits 1 party, or having 150 tables that can sit 150 parties of two people? They both have the same total seats, yet one is much more efficient in the total party seating capacity than the other. I realize this is an exaggerated position but hopefully it conveys the point.
And focusing on tables gets better, since in addition to the restaurant driving more sales, the take-home pay of the servers will also increase, since they will end up serving more parties. You can call this an unintended consequence, but I consider it an intended one since you can design to it by focusing on tables, tables and more tables, instead of seats, seats and more seats.
I understand that the kitchen has to be able to handle the capacity of the additional tables to drive good service, but perhaps this can be the topic of another article. We will title it Kitchen.....Kitchen.....Kitchen.